Conditions and challenges experienced by human rights defenders

From November 17-23, 2003, a delegation of three representatives of Forefront, the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT,) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) in their joint program, the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights defenders, visited Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPTs).

The delegation�s goals were to advance the principles laid out in the 1998 United Nations Declaration on the Rights and Responsibilities of Individuals, Groups and Organs of Society to Promote and Protect Universally Recognized Human Rights and Fundamental Freedoms, and to support the work of the UN Secretary-General�s Special Representative on Human Rights Defenders. The delegation aimed to document the conditions and challenges faced by local human rights defenders in Israel and the OPTs, i.e. a region crucial to world peace and security which has experienced armed conflict and terrorism for many years, and where there further exist specific circumstances of separation of territory and people, including by a highly-guarded wall with a �seam zone�. The delegation also aimed, where appropriate, to explore possible recommendations for improvement of the situation and work conditions of human rights defenders.

The delegation�s on-site findings show how complex, challenging and risky the work of human rights NGOs is in such a conflict-filled environment where all human rights are at risk, and the extent to which human rights defenders themselves may be exposed to violations of their human rights. Palestinian organizations work in the context of a fight for independence and statehood military occupation, strict territorial closure, limitations on freedom of movement that can be described as asphyxiating, and constant, multiple and serious attacks on human dignity by the occupying force. Israeli organizations work in a democratic environment, but exposed to armed resistance, with the risk of abhorrent suicide attacks that create a climate of insecurity and a level of anxiety that eventually erode people�s capacity to be concerned about the plight of the others. Yet, against these two different backgrounds and circumstances, the work of all these organizations appears equally important and also complementary and mutually reinforcing.

This report exposes at the grave impact that a purely military approach to security has on the enjoyment of human rights. The wide range of activities that have to be carried out by those human rights NGOs concerned with the situation of the Palestinian people provides clear evidence of the negative impact of such a traditional approach to security on almost the entire gamut of human rights, especially where international humanitarian law is not respected. This report addresses issues of registration and funding for human rights NGOs in Israel and the Palestine National Authority (PNA). It also addresses the different ways in which human rights NGOs monitor human rights practices. Attention is also paid to the way the work of human rights defenders is perceived by the authorities and within their own communities.

The report will be launched on Monday 29 March 2004 at the United Nations press library in Geneva. The report will be available on the websites of the respective organisations.

More information:

  • FIDH: 00 331 43 55 25 18 / OMCT: 00 41 22 809 49 29 / Forefront: 001 212 845 5274.